My users keep naming things with special characters to thwart alphabetization

  • In my application, there's a long list of user-created objects in a master-detail setup. All we show in the master list is the name of the object, and the list is alphabetized. I've noticed that my users have been naming their objects starting with special characters, to get those objects to rise to the top of the list.

    What feature(s) should I add so that they won't need to do that anymore?

    Why do you think that's bad?

    Users only see their own objects or any user can see everyone's objects?

    @simbabque It's not that it's *bad* necessarily, but it does seem like the design isn't serving them as well as it could.

    @Alvaro In this case it's a shared list.

    Full disclosure: I posed this question mostly because it seemed like a good one for this community and nobody'd asked it yet. (Didn't have time to write an answer myself, but some of the answers already posted are probably better than I could've written anyway.)

    I posit yet another reasonable way to handle this: yes, users should perhaps get a new sorting feature out of this, but as far as fostering adoption for that (as opposed to letting users blindly do this out of habit and perhaps ignorance of a good alternative), you COULD implement a "soft" warning/validation that 1) notifies the UX lead so they can take action if desired, and 2) gently nudges the user toward the better way to handle sorting, and 3) still allows the user to force specials if he is "really sure" it's a good idea. Win/Win/Win! :)

    If you want to look at another application where this is common-- in the Ti-Calculator programming community this is common practice and there are norms and expectations around its usage. Might be worth checking out to see the long term results of this going unpoliced.

    Ah, the good old days of taxi companies and auto repair places all throwing extra A's on the front of their name so they'd be first in the phone book...

    Why are they using special characters? To get visibility at the top of the list. There needs to be a more enticing option besides this. For example, sorting by rating or user feedback instead of name. Then to get at the top of the list a user needs to submit quality content, better than the others, not to include more special characters than the other.

    Gmail labels are alphabetized and I don't know how to order them without using special characters, which I do. I want the commonly used ones at the top.

    ... *A.A.A.A.A.A. young hot girl offers good company to gentlemen.* Never read something like that in local newspapers? (this also shows that forbidding characters will not work... alphanumerics are enough to break your system).

    @Bakuriu we should forbid alphanumerics in names. Only emoji should be allowed.

    I remember when my dad used to do this on his old (1999 or 2000) Nokia phone, which had no ability to "favourite" address book entries. Mom was "AAAMom", the home phone was "AAHome", somebody else was "ASomebodyElse"...

    @NateGreen have you had any feedback from your users why they do this?

    @icc97 No. I posted this question immediately after noticing the behavior. As I said in an earlier comment, though, this question was posted more for the benefit of the UX.SE community than helping me solve a problem at work. :)

    Also there's the general insanity of the Windows registry priority ordering for icon overlays. Watch Dropbox + Google Drive + Sky Drive fight for supremacy:

    @icc97 "Why can't we all just get along?"

    It's aaaaaaaaaaaaaaa problem with beard ;)

    You can always check what's the problem and if you think that the problem is users willing to place some items on the top, then you can ask them if they'd like an option to find items or another to place them in folders or something like making favourites.

    [American accent]What we've got here is a failure to collate.[/accent] Honestly though, better systems beget better gaming by users, the communicate and educate answers are on the money.

  • filip

    filip Correct answer

    4 years ago

    This user behaviour indicates a great opportunity to improve the usability of your application. Ask a few users why they rename items and try to understand the underlying need or problem that they are facing.

    Depending on what answers you get, possible solutions might include:

    • Allow sorting the list in different ways; by date/user/...
    • Allow users to add a list of favourites items that is always shown in the top
    • Only show top 5 items and make the rest searchable/filterable
    • Allow them to reorder the items in the list by dragging and dropping
    • Give them an autocomplete search box to select an item in the list

    In either case, don't limit the users by forbidding special characters. Until the underlying problem gets fixed, the current solution might be a life saver for them.

    Great answer! +1 for user research and acknowledging the designer's responsibility to solve the problem.

    +1, but I'd say don't just ask them, have them **sit down with you and the tool** and show you what's problem this behavior solves for them. For the app to really solve user problems, the designer must become a user. (Yes, that was me from 9 years ago)

    In German phone books (yes, they still exist) there are quite many locksmiths listed with names like "AAAAA Schlüsseldienst". - As long as the list is alphabetically sorted for users other than the person creating the entry at least once, this is still a viable "attack" to get one's own entries listed first. - If there is any chance of this kind of uncooperative behaviour, this should be addressed, too!

    @AlexanderKosubek really, everyone should begin their names with AAAAA, then they would all be at the top. Why are people so obtuse? It is obvious. Just put everything at the top, then it is easy to see and get to.

    Wouldn't it make sense to add a favorites list?

    If you use Bootstrap or a "plain" website with jQuery, I think that datatables fits on it.

    Alexander: Not just Germany, the UK yellow pages has 1000's of businesses called "A1", "AAAA1111" etc. etc. Back to the subject: I would modify the (default) sort to put weird characters at the end of the list to discourage it, but adding "sort options" is still a nice idea.

    By far the most important feature I've found on any list that's going to have more than ~20 or so items: **Give them an autocomplete search box**

    Allow them to start typing with the list selected, to jump the selection to the one which matches. Not even filter, just accept typing to select.

    @JohnU Really, names are far too important to allow users to choose them! We must prevent this at all costs. Only randomly assigned combinations of symbols will be allowed.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM